in cellulo?

July 30, 2007 at 10:27 am | | help me, literature, open thread

What do you call experiments done in a live cell? Some call it in vivo, but that seems to make more sense for in an entire organism (and some of the cellular work is done in single cells of more complex organisms, such as CHO cells). But it definitely should be differentiated from in vitro experiments, because you’re dealing with life!

How about in cellulo? Sounds sorta weird to me.

Is there an accepted term, even an archaic one? Does anyone have a preferred term?

UPDATE: Andrea in the comments suggest that the correct Latin for would be in cellulis.


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  1. How about “in nature?”


    Comment by ilya — July 30, 2007 #

  2. or “in J Phys Chem B” ?

    Comment by sam — July 30, 2007 #

  3. physiologists call it in vitro.
    biochemists call it in vivo.

    Comment by matt — July 30, 2007 #

  4. If its something growing in a petri dish, it’s in vitro.

    Comment by Jeremiah — July 30, 2007 #

  5. “In vitro” is latin for “in or within the glass.” “In vivo” is latin for “in or within the living.” The word “cell” was coined by English naturalist Robert Hooke, who derived the term from the latin word “cella,” which means “storeroom” or “small container.” If you want to be snooty and follow the tradition, then you can say “in cella.”

    Here’s where my Latin gets shady but oh so fun. If you want to include the fact that the experiment is specifically with *living* cells, then I think the term is “in viva cella.” (It’s viva instead of vivo because I think cella is a feminine noun.) Now if you want to include that the experiment is with *multiple* cells, then I think the term is “in cellae.” (I think that’s how you pluralize a feminine noun, but I’m totally guessing.) Finally, if you want to include that the experiment is with *multiple* and *living* cells, then I think the term is “in vivae cellae.” (Here, I’m way out on a limb cause not only am I guessing on the plural for “cella,” but I really don’t know whether Latin pluralizes adjectives and then whether it would pluralize “viva” in the way I suggested. Still, people will take you super seriously for having such an apparent command of the Latin language.)


    Comment by jordan — July 30, 2007 #

  6. Jeremiah, I think it’s more ambiguous: a bacteria is a complete organism, so it is fair to call it in vivo, but it’s also in vitro as you say. That’s why I think there should be another term.
    jordan, I like in cella.
    Maybe the best thing is to stick with “cellular experiments” or “experiments in living cells.”

    Comment by sam — July 30, 2007 #

  7. how about in cyto?

    Comment by TK — August 2, 2007 #

  8. Why not use English, for example, “in animal cells” or “in tissue culture cells”?

    Comment by Sam — August 3, 2007 #

  9. it’s a hard call, one prof here pretty much insists on in cellulo, and another would have to restrain himself from decapitating someone who said it!

    as far as the latin goes, i think if you say “in” it requires the accusative case of the noun which would make the singular in cellulam and the plural in cellulas. i had to look up “cell” in a modern latin dictionary though since they didn’t really know that much about tiny things when latin was evolving… :)

    Comment by Rachael — August 3, 2007 #

  10. In this context, in requires ablative;
    furthermore, cella / cellula are from the 1st declension, therefore the ablative is cella/cellula for the singular or cellis/cellulis for the plural.

    Therefore one should say ”in cellulis”. In cellulo is plainly wrong.

    Comment by Andrea — January 22, 2010 #

  11. cool. but does that mean vitro and vivo are second declension?

    Comment by sam — January 22, 2010 #

  12. Yep…

    Vitrus, -i (lat. for glass) is 2nd declension, therefore its ablative is ‘vitro’.

    Vivus, -a, -um is the latin adjective for ‘alive’, and its ablative is ‘vivo’

    Comment by Andrea — January 25, 2010 #

  13. I was precisely thinking about this for a paper I am writing and came to the conclusion that we should say ‘in cella’. It seems that cell comes from the latin ‘cella’.

    Comment by alberto gandarillas — July 14, 2011 #

  14. Sorry. I changed my mind. It should be ‘in cellula’. Cellula means ‘little cella’ and seems to be the latin trnslation for cell, even though originally the author though of ‘cella’.

    Comment by alberto gandarillas — July 14, 2011 #

  15. You guys – Jordan especially – are awesome. I like in viva cellula. Kinda pretty.

    Comment by Joshua — March 29, 2013 #

  16. In cellula or in cellulae should be more appropriate.

    Comment by Alberto Haces — January 25, 2020 #

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